Johnson & Johnson

  1. New instructions for Tylenol

    Way too many people are taking way too much Tylenol -- and Johnson & Johnson's latest window-dressing maneuvers won't fix a thing.

    J&J says the changes it will make -- next year, mind you, not today -- will help stop the overuse that's turned the drug's main ingredient, acetaminophen, into the leading cause of liver failure in the United States.

    But they're not changing the drug.

    They're not even changing the dose.

    They're simply changing the maximum number of pills a patient should take each day from eight to six.

    Big stinking deal -- and when you consider the musty odor that's led to a recall of some Tylenol products, I do mean "stinking." Anyone who's been paying attention can tell you that the real problem isn't the instructions on the label, or even that awful smell.

    It's the drug itself -- along with the fact that drug makers have put it into just about everything from painkillers like J&J's Tylenol to cold meds like Procter & Gamble's Nyquil... not to mention prescription drugs such as Vicodin and Percocet.

    Many people overdose on acetaminophen simply because they have no idea how much they've taken.

    Then, they find out the hard way what happens when you take too much -- and liver failure is just the beginning. One study earlier this year found people who pop just four Tylenols a week have double the risk of blood cancers.

    Two other recent studies found that kids given acetaminophen regularly -- say, to reduce an ordinary and often harmless low-grade fever -- have a higher risk of asthma, wheezing, and other breathing problems.

    And let's not forget the infamous recalls of both regular and children's Tylenol lines due to quality control issues ranging from that musty odor I mentioned earlier to bacterial contamination and "tiny particles" -- including bits of metal -- in the medicine.

    Throw in all the other problems linked to acetaminophen -- nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and allergic reactions, just to name a few -- and it's bad news all around, no matter how many pills you take.

  2. Kids in the crossfire

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    If you think adult meds are bad, you should see what they're trying to force on your children and grandchildren.

    Some of the nation's most common over-the-counter children's drugs – meds you might find in any home with a kid – have been recalled for problems ranging from contamination to quality.

    All told, Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Pharmaceuticals pulled some 40 meds, including Children's Tylenol, Children's Motrin and Children's Benadryl. In many homes with children, that's half the medicine chest!

    In a 17-page report, the Food and Drug Administration detailed some of the problems with these dirty drugs. It's a frightening list:

    • "Tiny particles" in the medicine, including bits of metal;
    • Bacterial contamination;
    • Security lapses at the Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, plant where the drugs are made;
    • Inadequate training; and
    • No written procedures to ensure "the identity, strength, quality, and purity" of the meds.

    It might have been easier to simply list what wasn't wrong!

    In one of the most bizarre public statements in the history of corporate America, the company actually agreed with many of the FDA's accusations.

    "The quality issues that the FDA has observed, many of which we had recently identified in our own quality reviews and communicated to the FDA, are unacceptable to us," the company said.

    Say what?

    That's a little like a bank robber who, on getting caught, says he just noticed he had been stealing and found it to be unacceptable. In fact, he was just about to turn himself in.

    Of course, they had to take a different approach since they can't claim they had no idea. The FDA says the company received at least 46 complaints from consumers who said they found particles in their children's meds… and did nothing.

    But there's a positive side to this crisis, because it's a chance for parents to look at the alternatives. Like adults, many kids are often taking drugs they don't need – especially these over-the-counter remedies. Many parents reach for the Tylenol or Motrin any time they spot a fever in their child, but these days even mainstream docs will tell you that it's the wrong approach – especially for non-threatening low-grade fevers with no other symptoms.

    Fevers can be caused by any number of factors, and aren't an automatic sign of illness. Many fevers are of no concern, especially if your child is acting normally.

    And in some cases, the fever is the body's response to invading bacteria and viruses, many of which can be wiped out by the internal temperature change. Drop the fever, though, and you can give those microscopic invaders a chance to regroup and multiply.

    As always, talk to your pediatrician before you start or stop any medicine – but in most cases, you'll do better with home remedies and a little common sense than you would with any of these meds.

    Especially the ones they're telling you to throw in the trash.

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